MERIDIAN — Extraordinary moments
Former Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, who worked with Pigford in at least 20 shows, also remembered the director's dedication in getting youth involved with the theater. Children who were involved with MLT now have grandchildren on stage.
"There are many people who have literally grown up in that theater," Smith said.
Smith's first MLT production was "1776" in 1976, which began a 26-year working relationship with Pigford.
"Meridian Little Theatre is so much more than plays that unfold on the stage," Smith said, noting that the cast, crews and audience involved with each production are all part of a greater experience. "It was always Jimmy's hand that orchestrated that sharing. Jimmy has created some extraordinary moments."
In Mobile, Ala., earlier this year, Smith said he met a man who said he is familiar with Meridian because he always buys season tickets for Meridian Little Theatre.
"Sometimes we forget about the reach and the economic impact MLT has," Smith said. "The City of Meridian, the region, theater arts in our state and region owe a debt of gratitude to Jimmy Pigford."
Smith also said all that magic Pigford produced over the years was done with very little.
"He took doctors, lawyers, housewives, theater owners, pharmacists and politicians, and molded them into a cast so that for a couple of hours on an evening they could take an audience to a place where they have never been before, or maybe had forgotten."
Over the years Pigford also brought professional performers to his hometown for productions on the MLT stage, including Mercedes McCambridge, Russ Tamblyn, Virginia Mayo, Cyd Charisse and Barbara Rush.
Pigford received the Meridian Council for the Arts Excellence in Arts Award, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Award for Community Involvement for Outstanding Contributions in the World of Art and Entertainment. He was a past president of the Mississippi Community Theatre Association and served as chairman of the Mississippi State Theatre Convention.
State Rep. Greg Snowden, Speaker Pro Tempore, said he became friends with Pigford in 1984.
"That year, on a whim, I auditioned for "The Music Man" at MLT, and I landed a minor part in the chorus. The show was a hit, and I enjoyed it very much.
"In the spring of 1987, Jimmy called to encourage me to audition for the role of Seymour Krelborn in "Little Shop of Horrors." I got the part. 'Little Shop' was a groundbreaking musical — edgy, with an integrated cast, and a show which brought together the entire community."
Snowden remembers that current County Court Judge Vel Young first hit the MLT stage as part of the dynamic "Supremes-like" African-American trio in that production, which he said, along with the entire cast, caught the imagination of the community.
"A huge hit, 'Little Shop' was so typical of Jimmy's vision to bring the best of the theatrical arts to all citizens," Snowden said. "Jimmy was always looking forward. That was his special gift."
Snowden said he's been privileged to have performed in almost two dozen MLT productions, all directed by Jimmy Pigford.
"Jimmy, and MLT, have been a very special part of my life. In more recent years, I have been honored to serve two years as MLT president, and have spent many years as a board of directors member and/or as a board advisor. In those capacities, I was able to observe and appreciate Jimmy's role as business manager as well as his genius as MLT's artistic director. The business side of any arts organization can be a very daunting challenge. Jimmy met, and exceeded, that challenge," Snowden said.
"First and foremost, Jimmy loved MLT, the theatrical arts, and the Meridian and East Mississippi community. He was devoted to the success of our part of the state. Above all, he was my mentor, encourager, supporter, and friend. I miss him tremendously, and can only hope that East Mississippi fully appreciates his nearly half-century of work on our behalf. Jimmy has left a great void — our challenge as a community, one Jimmy would endorse, is to strive to do our very best to fill that void."